Hyperion Records

Viola Concerto, Op 37
1980/4; composed at the suggestion of the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky; first performed in Pittsburgh in 1984 by Pinchas Zukerman under André Previn

'Bartók & Rózsa: Viola Concertos' (CDA67687)
Bartók & Rózsa: Viola Concertos
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Movement 1: Moderato assai
Movement 2: Allegro giocoso
Movement 3: Adagio
Movement 4: Allegro con spirito

Viola Concerto, Op 37
Despite the fact that he left Hungary at a relatively early age and studied his craft in Germany, Rózsa’s music—including his film music—is often imbued with distinct Hungarian national characteristics reminiscent of Kodály and Bartók, whose example he admired tremendously. The Hungarian accent of the Viola Concerto is plain to hear. Rózsa especially loved string instruments: he had begun playing the violin at the age of five and in his early teens became the leader of his high school orchestra. He admitted to a great fondness for the viola, but it was only towards the end of his life that he cast that instrument in a solo role. In fact the Viola Concerto was Rózsa’s final orchestral work, while the last work he ever completed was an Introduction and Allegro for unaccompanied viola, written in 1988.

The Viola Concerto, Op 37, was worked on between 1980 and 1984, and was actually composed at the suggestion of the cellist Piatigorsky. It had a somewhat troubled gestation as Rózsa was constantly being interrupted by appeals to provide Hollywood film-scores (he put aside the concerto in order to write his score for Alain Resnais’s Providence, for example). It was finally premiered in Pittsburgh in 1984 by Pinchas Zukerman, under the baton of André Previn. Rózsa had originally planned a concerto in the conventional three movements, but the first movement turned into ‘something darker and weightier’ than he had originally intended, so he felt the need to insert a contrastingly short, scherzo-like Allegro giocoso ahead of the slow movement and finale. The four-movement design somewhat resembles that of Ernest Bloch’s Suite for viola and orchestra, which may have been one model for Rózsa. Another was undoubtedly Bartók’s Viola Concerto of 1945; while Bartók contracted an original four-movement conception into three, Rózsa did the opposite. But the overall impression of the work is individual, darkly Romantic, and still authentically Hungarian in inspiration.

The big first movement is expansively, broodingly rhapsodic. From a sombre opening, the voice of the solo viola arises like a bardic singer telling a tragic yet inspiring tale. This vein of lyric melancholy predominates, but it alternates with much more energetic, incisively rhythmic music that drives to a passionate climax. A voluble solo cadenza occurs about two-thirds of the way through the movement, after which flute and harp accompany the viola to lead into the nostalgic and shadowy reprise and coda. The agile, dynamic scherzo is the perfect foil to this first movement, characterized by repeated figures and pounding rhythms. A resolute second subject brings the spirit of a quick march, but the movement evaporates in quick-fire instrumental solos ranging from piccolo to tuba, leading to a brilliantly throwaway ending.

The Adagio slow movement is an intensely lyrical Hungarian nocturne, calm at first but growing passionate and troubled. (In the central climax there is a distinct resemblance to the sequence ‘Brutus’ Secret’ in Rózsa’s 1953 film score for Joseph L Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar, starring Marlon Brando, John Gielgud and James Mason.) The movement ends with the viola singing seraphically in harmonics in its highest register, and the finale bursts in without a break. This starts as a hectically exciting moto perpetuo but lapses time and again into warmer, nostalgically lyrical episodes, redolent of Hungarian folksong. As the movement progresses the march character of the second movement makes itself felt once again, and the music rouses itself to a triumphantly energetic and decisive conclusion.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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